The Thell-Lenntorp Twins: A Great Team on and off the Tennis Court
Academy of Art University artist-athletes Alma Thell-Lenntorp and Klara Thell-Lenntorp.
There’s no secret formula or strategy or regime to Alma and Klara Thell-Lenntorp’s success on the tennis court. Throw out all traditional norms of “hard work” and “discipline,” “practice” and “perseverance.” Their secret? Twin telekinesis.
“Sometimes, it feels like we’re talking with the mind,” Alma – “The older one,” – jokes when we meet at a coffee shop near Academy of Art University’s 79 New Montgomery building. Klara – “The taller one,” – is in on the quirk, but just grins.
Whether the mind-body connection they allude to is real or just for giggles, there’s evidence to support it as truth: Both are students in the School of Communications & Media Technologies (COM), wear similar bomber jackets for our meeting (they swear they don’t coordinate) and finish each other’s sentences. They remember when they attempted to play with different partners: “It was fun to try, but it was weird,” Alma recalled.
“It feels very comfortable knowing she’s behind me,” she continued. “[Klara] just knows which way I’m going.”
Their synchronization acts as a one-two punch on the court. The Thell-Lenntorp sisters had a strong start from the moment they arrived to the Academy from Lund, Sweden, in 2015 and dominated throughout their first season. As freshmen, they were named to the All-PacWest Second Team (first in Urban Knights history), combined for team-high 15 victories and ranked fifth in the West region and 25th in the country.
Not to be outdone the following year, Alma and Klara landed onto the 2017 All-PacWest First Team and ranked as high as No. 5 in the country and No. 1 in the West Region during their sophomore season.
In October, the twins were named doubles champions at the 2017 Stanislaus Warrior Invitational in Turlock, California, a confidence booster after falling from nationally-ranked No. 1 to No. 6 at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Oracle Cup in Rome, Georgia, a few weeks earlier.
“We were very disappointed after we lost in Georgia, so this felt like we took revenge,” Klara said. “This is good preparation for [the] season; as long as we keep doing what we’re doing – weights and practice – we’ll be ready.”
Alma and Klara were born in 1996 to Karl Magnus Lenntorp and Una Thell, and also have an older brother named August. The duo started playing tennis at six years old and by the time they were 12, they won their first junior championship. Lund is a small town of 200,000 people, the majority getting around on bikes, and by the time the two were in high school, “It felt like we were stuck playing in the same players, in the same place, all the time,” Klara said.
So, Alma and Klara made a list of places to explore and experience, San Francisco being one of them. They only had two requirements for college, for the school to offer a scholarship and that they be accepted together so they could play doubles. Tennis was their motivation to get out of Sweden, being able to stay together was supplementary: “It helped us to believe in our dreams even more,” said Alma.
Transitioning from a small town to metropolitan city was jarring at times (“We live in the Tenderloin,” Klara shared) and confusing during others (“Americans like to over-share things,” Alma commented), but their main gripe was San Francisco’s “warm weather.” For the sisters, 17-degrees Celsius (or 62-degrees Fahrenheit) is like a cold Sweden summer.
“Coming here gave us a lot of perspective,” Alma said, not just on their home country but also on their relationship as twins.
Born four minutes apart, Alma and Klara, naturally, have been inseparable. They discovered tennis together and their sisterhood helped them excel in it, their shared success in the sport led them to new places and experiences. “We would have never gone to these places without tennis,” Alma insisted.
The next step for them, on top of the upcoming spring semester and their junior season, is to be more independent of each other, even if in small ways. They shared a bed their first semester and took the same classes, but didn’t study together. They made friends, explored the area and picked up new, but different interests: Klara frequently surfs and Alma has a keen enthusiasm in being a video producer.
The Academy especially, they say, required them to take a step outside of their comfort zone. The COM curriculum removes them from a traditional “reading and writing-form of learning” to being out in the field.
As a hands-on learner, Alma said, “That’s why I think this school fits me so well… It’s more about doing, and that’s the best way I learn.”
But for now, the focus is on tennis. The Urban Knights women’s tennis team finished No. 9 according to the ITA website, and hopes to improve upon last season with a new coach, who has yet to be assigned. The Thell-Lenntorps said they don’t care about being ranked, (“Only about having fun and winning”) but they know what they are capable of and want to take full advantage of the experiences and opportunities tennis as afforded them, both together and as individuals.
“When you’re here, you’re here, but after graduation and you go home, you’re going to wonder why you didn’t do this or that,” Klara explained. “So, we try to do as much as possible so we can feel like we really enjoyed this city and did as much as we could while we were here.”